This Unit History is only available from a 69th member, his family, or by chance, a "flea market."
A Treasured Military Legacy
Colonel Walter D. Buie’s military legacy will not be only that he led his “Battle Axe Regiment” (the 272nd Infantry) in combat that helped the Allies win WWII in Europe, though all of his assignments were successful. Buie also had the uncanny wisdom to publish “The History Of The 272 Infantry,” a hardback, 176-page book, and give a copy to all his men.
After V-E Day in May 1945, Colonel Buie had his Regiment in the area of Leipzig, the printing center of Germany. He had his Information and Education Officer, 1st Lt. E. Cline Fletcher, assemble material in record time for publication in June 1945, to distribute this book to the soldiers before they might be reassigned.
Without a doubt, this history is unparalleled among all the Unit histories published by any WWII Unit. The vast amount of material in the book is the source of the 272 information on this Web site. We wish such a detailed histories were available from the other 69th Units, but we have posted shorter accounts from most Units.
What you will read first is the history as summarized from the regiment's morning reports. Remember -- a regiment consists of some 3,200 men. Its main components are three infantry battalions of around 850 men. They are called the First Battalion, Second Battalion and Third Battallion. At the end of the regiment's history, you may read each battalion's history by clicking on its name, or if you wish, you may click on the links below to read the battalion histories first.
Although plans had been laid for the activation of the 69th Infantry Division during the First World War, the actual formation of the unit did not take place until World War II. The 272nd Infantry as a part of the Division was formally activated on 15 May 1943, at Camp Shelby, Mississippi.
The original cadre of 23 officers and 228 noncommissioned came from the 383rd Infantry of the 96th Infantry Division, which was then stationed at Camp Adair, Oregon. The officers were young, and the noncommissioned officers were relatively new to the Army. However, whatever was lacking in experience was offset by the spirit and the will to do a good job. The first officers arrived at Camp Shelby on 6 April 1943. During the remainder of the month of April, the remaining officers and approximately 3,000 men arrived. The officers and men averaged about 21 years of age. The bulk of the men came from the states of New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.
The original mission assigned to the 272nd Infantry was to prepare the Regiment for combat overseas. In order to fulfill this mission, maximum stress was placed on discipline, exacting instruction, physical hardening and pride in the Unit. Mississippi offered much as a test of physical stamina – its boiling sun, torrential rains, and damp, penetrating cold added to the discomfiture felt on the numerous bivouac periods. Initially, training was handicapped by the shortage of equipment and the lack of adequate close-in training areas. The needs of the War Department for overseas replacements caused about a 200-percent turnover in officers and men. Each loss of a group of men would entail a certain amount of retraining for the new replacements. To the older officers and noncommissioned officers, it appeared that the Division was being used exclusively as a replacement division. However, training continued with the original mission still in mind. Somehow, the morale continued high throughout the 18 months’ stay at Camp Shelby. Finally, around 1 October 1944, it became evident that the Regiment was going to be shipped overseas. On 31 October 1944, the Regiment left Camp Shelby for an unknown destination.
The Regiment was moved by train from Camp Shelby, Mississippi, to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, the overseas staging area. Prior to the departure from Shelby, packing and crating became the training for the day. The Regiment was set up on a 24-hour basis, with security training and clothing and equipment checks utilizing all available time. The two-day train trip offered the first real rest for the troops in over a month. The accommodations on the train were excellent, and all the men enjoyed the opportunity to take life easy and view the countryside, which was new to many.
On 2 November 1944, the 272nd Infantry arrived at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. For two days, the men were given the last-minute processing prior to boarding ship for overseas. This consisted of censorship training, conduct aboard ship, abandon-ship drill, conduct as a Prisoner of War, gas-mask drills, and final showdown inspections. During the two-day processing period, the Regiment was restricted to the camp area. Immediately after the completion of this training, all men were authorized one 24-hour pass and a number of 12-hour passes. The only restriction was that no more than 50 percent of the Regiment could be absent at one time. To many, this was the first opportunity to see New York City. The train and bus connections to New York City were so good that even a 12-hour pass offered ample opportunity to see the city. The short stay at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey, proved to be a very enjoyable stopover on the way across.
On 14 November 1944, the Regiment moved by train and ferry to the transports MS John Ericsson and SS Santa Maria for the voyage overseas. On this short trip to the transports, the men of the Regiment began to realize the value of traveling light. All personal equipment and most of the records had to be hand carried and stored with the troops aboard ship. At first glance, the compartments appeared too small to accommodate all the men and their equipment. After a little shuffling around, everyone found a spot and became reasonably comfortable and set for the trip across the Atlantic.
On the night of 15 November 1944, the MS John Ericsson and SS Santa Maria moved slowly under the cover of darkness through New York Harbor bearing the members of the 272nd Infantry out across the Atlantic. The Regimental Headquarters, Cannon Company, Service Company, and 1st and 3rd Battalions were aboard the MS John Ericsson. The MS John Ericsson was the former Swedish luxury liner Kungsholm, built by the Germans in 1928. It was built for speed and rough seas. The SS Santa Maria carried the 2nd Battalion and the Anti-Tank Company. The Santa Maria was a converted freighter, a much smaller ship than the MS John Ericsson, and had none of the luxurious appointments of the MS John Ericsson. A short distance outside of New York Harbor, the convoy, consisting of about 35 ships with destroyer escort, assembled.
The trip overseas was a new experience to most of the men, and, generally speaking, it was quite pleasant. A mildly rough sea caused the rails to be crowded to capacity the first day or so on the water, but after this short period of adjustment, everyone became accustomed to the rise and fall of the sea. A training program was carried on during the entire crossing. The crowded decks limited the training to physical exercise, inspections, and abandon-ship drill. Time went by fast, and soon the shores of England were in sight. Prior to our disembarking, the Transport Commander complimented the troops by saying that the Regiment had the best-disciplined troops he had seen during his career of transporting troops.
On 1 December 1944, the MS John Ericsson and SS Santa Maria docked at Southampton, England. Once again, the rails were lined to capacity, but this time it was the curiosity of the men that prompted them to hang over the railings. To most of them, this was their first glimpse of England, and the first sight of the devastations of war. About noon, the Regiment started moving from the transports to the English trains that transported the troops to their camp and billet areas in southern England.
The morning of 2 December 1944 found the 272nd Infantry settled into its new home. The Division CP (Command Post) was at Winchester. The Regimental Headquarters, Service Company, and 2nd Battalion were at Danebury Downs near the Wallops, about three miles west of Stockbridge. The 1st Battalion, 3rd Battalion, Anti-Tank Company and Cannon Company were at Lopscombe Corners, six miles east of Salisbury. Training facilities were limited, and the bulk of the training was only that which could be accomplished in company areas or on two small ranges located nearby. There was a building suitable for showing training films. Most of the men were quartered in Nissen huts with shower and latrine facilities located close by. The Regiment was liberal with passes during the stay here, and everyone had the opportunity of visiting London and other historical parts of England.
Morale was high, and war seemed to be far away during the first part of December. Then came the newsflash of the German breakthrough in Belgium on 16 December 1944. War now seemed close at hand, and our attitude changed from one of the casual interest to one of serious personal regard. On Christmas Day, 700 men were taken from the Regiment for immediate shipment to Belgium to help stop the German onslaught. It was about this time that the Regiment was warned to prepare for shipment to the battlefront. During the remainder of the cold days of December and the first part of similar January days, we continued to train and readjust from the Christmas Day losses.
On 21 January 1945, during a blizzard, the Regiment sailed from England aboard the MS Sobieski for France. Two days later, we landed at Le Havre, France, where the troops viewed the ruins of the first German fortifications they had seen. The troops were transported from Le Havre via truck with semi trailers to the vicinity of Forges-Les-Eaux, near the Division CP. Regimental Headquarters was located in Gaillefontaine, with the Battalions and Special Units in the neighboring towns. The towns in this section of France really showed the effects of war, and the Regiment, for the most part, was quartered in ruined houses and old, abandoned Chateaux. It didn’t take long to learn how to make comfort out of what the land had to offer. More than a week was spent in this relatively comfortable site. While stationed here, the Regiment received 810 replacements to take the place of the men shipped to the Continent during the German breakthrough in December. The major portion of the time was spent processing the new men and cleaning equipment.
February found the Regiment up to full strength once more and ready to plunge into combat. On 1 February 1945, we moved to the vicinity of Laon, France, via the “Forty and Eight” box cars that the men had heard their fathers talk about in their tales of World War I, and organic vehicles. The train trip was long, tiresome, and cold. Everyone was glad to see the end of the journey. Division CP was at Liesse. Regimental Headquarters and Special Units located at Le Marais, and the three Battalions located in Goudelancourt, Ebeuleau, and Montigny Le Franc. The French towns were hard to pronounce, so the Battalion locations were named appropriately Camp Wheatfield, Tent City, and Mud Flats. On 6 February 1945, the Regiment once again moved by train and organic vehicles to Born, Belgium. The train trip of two days and nights seemed longer and rougher than any previous move. Two innovations added to the comfort and control of the troops. Food was made more palatable by heating the “C” rations in boiling water, and greater command control was achieved during train movement by installing wire communications between the train commander’s car and remaining cars. At Born, the Regiment was placed in V Corps, a part of the First United States Army.
On 12 February 1945, we moved from Born to the front. The 69 Infantry Division replaced the 99 Infantry Division in the Eifel Forest area. The 272 Infantry was placed in V Corps reserve and was located in the forest near Losheimergraben. This whole area was a part of the German bulge. It was littered with quantities of destroyed or abandoned German equipment and the bodies of dead animals and dead Germans.
Although the Regiment was in Division and Corps reserve, it was within light artillery range, and the enemy airplanes strafed the position on several occasions. It was in this area that we suffered our first combat casualties when on 17 February 1945, one man was killed and three others were wounded by artillery fire.
The comfortable quarters enjoyed in previous locations in France and Belgium were missing here. For the most part, the troops were quartered either in tents or log dugouts. The weather was still extremely cold, and the snow had melted just enough to make the ground very muddy. Much of the time was spent in policing the area, burying dead animals and dead Germans, rebuilding roads, and repairing the log buildings and dugouts.
During this period, the regiment organized an elaborate and deliberate defensive position along the high ground in the vicinity. The position was set up, dug, camouflaged and prepared for occupation should the Germans launch another counterattack, for which they had become so famous. All during this time, a constant alert was maintained, and training was conducted in demolitions, assault on pillboxes, and other subjects selected from combat experience. Assault teams were formed for the eventual attack the regiment would make on the vaunted Siegfried Line.
On 27 February 1945, the 69 Infantry Division attacked the Siegfried Line. Gains up to 2,000 yards were made, and six towns were overrun. During this initial attack by the division, the 272 Infantry remained in reserve.
On 1 March 1945, the 272 Infantry received orders to occupy a front line position, relieving the 273 Infantry. The movement was completed, and the regiment actively assumed control of its sector on the front at 0300 on March 4, 1945. During our occupation of this front line position, we were subjected to light small-arms, mortar and artillery fire. The holding position was continuously improved, outposts were strongly manned, and vigorous patrolling action was in force.
On 5 March 1945, a battle patrol from 3 Battalion, led by Lt. Raymond H. Coppock, probed some 1,200 yards to the front through densely mined fields and obtained valuable information concerning German withdrawals from the regiment’s sector. This patrol investigated five pillboxes and destroyed one of them. They found stoves still warm in two of the pillboxes. They also found roads that showed evidence of considerable movement to the east, and they found evidence of minefields and attempts to boobytrap some pillboxes. This battle patrol followed so closely on the heels of the withdrawing Germans that their secret retreat from the Siegfried Line was discovered at the very instant that it occurred.
For their courageous work, the members of the patrol received the Bronze Star. Lieutenant Coppock, their commander, became the first in the 69 Infantry Division to receive the Silver Star.
From this patrol’s report and added information from prisoners interrogated by the IPW Team, the 69 Infantry Division launched an attack through the Siegfried Line. The regimental objective was Dahlem, Germany.
During the afternoon and night of 6-7 March 1945, the regiment advanced to the first phase line, in order to regroup for the continuation of the attack the next morning. This advance was executed only with the greatest difficulty because of the pitch-black night, the numerous mines, boobytraps, and road obstacles. Mine casualties were suffered, and some vehicles were lost, but the regiment resumed the attack on the morning of 7 March 1945.
The 3 Battalion, with Company I in the lead, followed by the 1 and 2 Battalions, continued the attack at dawn. Because of the treacherous mines and roadblocks, all weapons and ammunition were hand-carried. Company B, 269 Engineer Battalion, supported the advance, with one platoon in support of each leading battalion. This company did outstanding work in clearing over 100 mines and numerous road obstacles in the route of advance, greatly facilitating the rapid advance of the regiment.
One of the road obstacles was an abatis 1,400 yards long, which, when cleared, served as the MSR for the rest of the division and the 106 Infantry Division as well. The objective was reached at 1200. Defense of the town was immediately consolidated, and contact was established with the 6 Cavalry Group on the right and the 271 Infantry on the left. Three motorized patrols from the 1 Battalion moved to and occupied the towns of Waldorf, Ripsdorf and Hungersdorf. The I and R Platoon took the town of Nonnenbach, and elements of the 3 Battalion took the town of Stadtsforstschleim.
On 8 March 1945, the 3 Battalion moved to Waldorf. During and prior to the attack, the Anti-Tank Company and attached Company B, 29 Engineers Battalion, were employed to clear minefields and roadblocks and provide Anti-Tank protection. During this operation, numerous prisoners of war were taken.
Thus, the Battle Axe Regiment, as a part of 69 Infantry Division under V Corps and First Army, was given a mild introduction to battle. Unlike many of its predecessors, the regiment had suffered light casualties while winning a battle. The troops saw for themselves that the Nazi army was not composed of supermen, and the men found out that they were better than the German soldier. The initial itchy trigger finger which caused them to shoot at the slightest sound or movement in the dark had disappeared, and the troops began to assume the attitude of the confident combat soldier. The area back in the Eifel Forest had given everyone a complete picture of death and the effects of war and the men had seen their comrades hit.
The period from 9-21 March 1945 was a period of comparative quiet. Patrolling was constant, security maintained, and outposts were established on all roads in the vicinity of Waldorf and Dahlem. Training in combat subjects was continued and equipment was once more put in proper condition. A few prisoners were taken, but no active enemy operations were experienced.
During the first part of March, the whole western front advanced to the Rhine River, the last formidable natural barrier to the Allied drive for Berlin. All units were waiting for the hour when the big push across the river would take place. On 8 March 1945, the 9 Armored Division made its sensational seizure of the Remagen Bridge and established a bridgehead quickly on the eastern shore of the Rhine. The army promptly seized this golden opportunity to expand the bridgehead and push troops across the river. This was accomplished to a large extent prior to the bridge’s collapse later in the month.
On 20 March 1945, the 272 Infantry was alerted for movement to a new assembly area located in the vicinity of Waldorf on the Rhine. The following day, the 1 Battalion and Anti-Tank Company moved up to the new location overlooking the Rhine. On 23 March 1945, the remainder of the regiment, less the 3 Battalion, moved up to the assembly area. The 3 Battalion was placed on temporary assignment to Headquarters Security Command, First United States Army, with the general mission of safeguarding rear installations.
Anti-Tank Company placed their guns into position along the Rhine River for the purpose of destroying any objects floating down the river. Their mission was to thwart any German attempt to float explosives down the Rhine to blow up the Victor Bridge, one of the engineer pontoon bridges placed across it. To assist them in this mission, Anti-Tank Company was reinforced by Anti-Tank Company, 271 Infantry, one searchlight battery and one radar team.
The regimental command post was located in Waldorf on the Rhine with the 1 Battalion. 2 Battalion and Cannon Company were in neighboring towns. Defensive positions were manned, and all units were alerted for possible enemy action.
On 26 March 1945, the 272th Infantry was formed into a combat team. Combat Team 272 was composed of the Battle Axe Regiment, minus the 3 Battalion, with the following attachments: 1 Battalion, 273 Infantry; 406 Artillery Group; 955 Field Artillery Battalion; 879 Field Artillery Battalion; Company B, 661 Tank Destroyer Battalion; Company B, 369 Medical Battalion; 2 Platoon, Company D, 369 Medical Battalion; 269 Engineer Battalion; 102 Cavalry Squadron with 2 Ranger Battalions attached; 62 Field Artillery Battalion; and 777 Tank Battalion. Forming a combat team of 6,000 officers and enlisted men under V Corps control, Combat Team 272 was given the mission of crossing the Rhine River and seizing a 200-square-mile pocket of Germany opposite Coblenz, containing the famous Fortress Ehrenbreitstein. The Combat Team started crossing the Rhine on the afternoon of 26 March 1945.
The foot troops were moved via motor to Kaltenengers, where they were ferried across the Rhine to Bendorf, and from there, they moved by foot to the final assembly area. The organic vehicles and the motorized attachments started their movement across the Rhine via the Victor Bridge at 2000 the same night. By 0300 the morning of 27 March 1945, all elements of Combat Team 272 were across the Rhine and in the final assembly area.
From the command post at Vallendar, orders for the attack were issued late in the evening of 26 March 1945, and at 0630 the following morning, the attack jumped off. Fortress Ehrenbreitstein offered an insurmountable approach from the west, so the general plan for the attack was to punch a route along the northern edge of the sector to the extreme edge of the objective and from there to attack west, thus completing a pincers movement.
The first elements to move were the 102 Cavalry Group and the attached 62 Field Artillery Battalion. Their mission was to capture and hold the high ground and towns including Dornberg, Holzapple, Gherhausen, and Langenscheid in the extreme eastern sector of the combat team’s objective.
The 2 Battalion, 272 Infantry, moved by motor at 0700 through Bendorf, Vallendar, Simmern, Neuhasel to Bad Ems, their initial objective. These towns were all taken with moderate resistance. Bad Ems was captured by 1300, and contact was established with the 87 Infantry Division on the right and the 9 Armored Division on the left.
1 Battalion, 273 Infantry, moved by motor at 0730 to an assembly area at Neuhasel following the route of the 2 Battalion, 272 Infantry. From there, they proceeded west on their mission, capturing Immendorf, Arenber, Neiderberg, Urbar, Mallendar, and finally the famous Fortress Ehrenbreitstein, assisted on the south by 2 Battalion, 272 Infantry. 1 Battalion, 272 Infantry, had the mission of combat team reserve. They furnished strong outposts, and B Company, aboard the tanks of the 777 Tank Battalion, was given the mission of capturing and holding the town of Nassau.
The entire combat mission was completed by 1930 that evening. All objectives were taken, and the day’s operations resulted in the capture of more than 35 towns and over 1,200 prisoners. Combat Team 272, in addition, had cleared an area large enough for the remainder of the 69th Infantry Division.
The capture of Fortress Ehrenbreitstein was an historic occasion because it was here that the last American flag was lowered following the occupation of Germany after World War I. It was lowered April 23, 1923. Plans were made to have the same flag raised at the fortress on Army Day, 6 April 1945, as a symbol of the victorious return of American troops to Germany for the second time in a generation. General Bradley, 12 Army Group Commander, and Major General Reinhardt, 69th Infantry Division Commander, presided over the ceremonies. A platoon of soldiers selected from the various companies of the 272 Infantry as representatives of World War II conquerors received the colors from members of the 4 Infantry Division representatives of the occupation troops of the last war. The fortress, which dated back to the 12 century, was once more flying the Stars and Stripes.
On 28 March, the 3 Battalion was released from temporary duty with the First United States Army, and the combat team was dissolved. All the attached units returned to V Corps control. The 272 Infantry advanced further east and moved into quarters in the vicinity of Bad Ems. These billets were the best that the regiment had found since leaving the States. There were thick rugs, soft beds, spacious offices, and plenty of wine and food.
The stay was very short, for one day later, the regiment was once more formed as Combat Team 272. The following units were attached: Company B, 661 Tank Destroyer Battalion; 3 Platoon, Company B, 269 Engineer Battalion; Company B, 777 Tank Battalion; and the 880 Field Artillery Battalion. The combat team was given a new assembly area in the vicinity of Limbourg and alerted for movement to this area.
On the last day of March, Combat Team 272 moved a distance of 25 miles to the vicinity of Dehrn. Prior to moving from Bad Ems, excess clothing and equipment were turned in. The end of March found the regiment, in combat team formation, streamlined and waiting for further movement orders. Total battle casualties for the month of March were three killed (one officer) and 52 wounded (four officers). One hundred and sixteen reinforcements were received on 29 March 1945.
This month of April proved to be one of the most eventful and successful months in the history of the 272 Infantry. At the beginning of the period, the regiment had moved from Bad Ems, Germany, after crossing the Rhine, and plunging 27 miles into Germany, capturing many towns and cities, the famous Fortress at Ehrenbreitstein, and hundreds of prisoners. 1 April 1945 found the regiment located at Dehrn, Germany, where Easter services were conducted for all organizations. The regiment was organized as a task force with the following attachments: Company B, 661 TD Battalion; Company B, 777 Tank Battalion; 3 Platoon, Company B, 269 Engineer Battalion; and 880 Field Artillery Battalion. The combat team was making preparation to advance deeper into Hitler’s Third Reich.
Upon division order, the combat team advanced by motor from Dehrn, northeast to the vicinity of Elben, a night motor march of approximately 110 miles. Contact was gained with the 273 on the north and the 102 Cavalry Group on the south.
Starting at 0800, motorized patrols in strength were sent from each battalion supported by Artillery and Cannon Companies to comb the area 5,000 yards east of the assigned regimental sector. Anti-aircraft gun positions were established by all battalions, supporting units and attached units. Starting in the afternoon, the combat team moved by foot and motor from its location in the vicinity of Elben to a new area in the vicinity of Estha, relieving Combat Team 273, which moved further north. Strong outposts were immediately established. Artillery went into positions and was prepared to fire on call. Contact established and maintained with A Troop, 43 Cavalry Squad; 3 Cavalry Group and 273 Combat Team on the north.
At 0700, Combat Team began to advance to an assembly area in preparation for an attack to the east. Objective: Sondershausen, east of the large German city of Kassel. 1 Battalion moved into an assembly area at Dornberg; 2 Battalion, Ehlen; 3 Battalion, Balhorn. At 1115, the attack began with 1 Battalion leading. C Company rode tanks, while the rest of the battalion was shuttled by motor. Anti-tank vehicles were used for transporting troops. 2 Battalion, following, advanced by marching, securing Sondershausen, their objective, at 1530. 3 Battalion, advancing by foot, secured Bettenhausen, their objective, at 1930. 1 Battalion, passing through the 80 Division in Kassel, prepared to attack Landwehrhagen, their objective. After a heavy firefight against strong enemy opposition, the town was captured.
At 1715, 1 Battalion was on its objective when hit by a furious German counterattack of large numbers of enemy infantry supported by Tiger Tanks. After a bitter firefight, 1 Battalion effectively repulsed this counterattack and knocked out one Tiger Tank. Then, personally led by Major William M. Zimmerman, Battalion executive office , men of the 1 Battalion attacked the enemy force and practically annihilated them. The entire area was a huge litter of German dead. The rest were taken prisoner. In this intense and furious battle which accounted for so many of the enemy, 1 Battalion suffered casualties. This was the first time since crossing the Rhine that the Germans showed any desire to take from us ground which we had captured. The significant point was that they fought to death or until they ran out of ammunition.
At daylight, the 1 Battalion continued the attack to the east and captured the town of Benterode at 1015 with B Company, Uschlag at 1005 by A Company, and Scheinstein at 1330 by C Company. Sniper resistance was received in each of the towns, and required coordinated action with infantry and tanks to drive the enemy from the town. 2 Battalion: At daylight, relieved elements of the 319 Infantry and continued the advance toward Uschlag. Due to the resistance received by the 1 Battalion in clearing their area, the 2 Battalion passed through them and captured the town of Dahlem at 1630, Escherode at 1705, and Neuhagen at 1800. These towns were cleared only after a considerable amount of resistance was received from snipers. The 1 Battalion reorganized and passed through 2 Battalion at 1800, while the 2 Battalion continued to protect the north flank and also maintained contact with 3 Battalion 417 Infantry on the south. In the morning, the 3 Battalion was moved to an assembly area and held Hill 332 to protect the rear areas and maintain contact with 3 Battalion 273 Infantry at Luttenberg. The 3 Battalion continued on this mission throughout the day, clearing the area of small pockets of resistance and capturing a number of prisoners. The attack of the 1 and 2 Battalions continued after dark. During the night, the 1 Battalion followed by the 2 Battalion continued the attack, playing tag with snipers and the two Tiger Tanks on the road, almost all the way to Witzenhausen.
During the attack toward Witzenhausen, the 1 Battalion, after advancing in one of the darkest of nights and under difficult road conditions, killed many of the enemy and knocked out one Tiger Tank and captured the towns of Klein-Almerode at 0915, Elbingerode at 1350, and Witzenhausen at 1530, with sniper resistance. The 1 Battalion successfully crossed the Werra River at 1602 and established the first bridgehead across this river in the First Army sector. The main bridge across the river was blown in the face of B Company. However, the crossing was accomplished by troops climbing over the blown bridge structure and by use of weasels and assault boats. With the bridgehead established, the engineers immediately began construction of an infantry support bridge across the river, and preparations were made for a treadway bridge to be brought up during the night.
At the time the attack was launched against Witzenhausen, the 2 Battalion swung toward the north and captured the town of Hubenrode at 1245, Ermschwerda at 1600, and Bleckershausen at 1755. An attempt was made to secure a bridge across the Werra River at Gertenbach. This bridge also was blown by the enemy in the face of our troops. Heavy small-arms, artillery and mortar fire was received on the west bank, causing severe casualties in F Company. To relieve the situation, Company B, 777 Tank Battalion, was sent to assist the 2 Battalion. On arrival of the tanks, the resistance from self-propelled (SP) guns and machine guns from the east bank of the Werra ceased.
The town of Gertenbach was shelled with artillery fire during the night. Orders were given to the 3 Battalion to move to an assembly area in the vicinity of Hubenrode to protect the rear of the combat team, and to clear the town of Ziegenhagen, which was reported to be an enemy regimental command post. This mission was accomplished by the 3 Battalion after dark, and only slight resistance was received in entering the town.
Under the protection of the 1 Battalion, which had established a bridgehead across the river, construction was started on the treadway bridge at daylight, while the remaining elements of the combat team proceeded across the river via the infantry support bridge, constructed during the night by Company B 269 Engineers. Artillery fire and sniper resistance were encountered while crossing the bridge. The crossing was made by all units, but the advance to the east was slowed because of heavy enemy fire received from self-propelled weapons and snipers. This fire caused casualties among our men and vehicles, but did not result in damaging the bridge. The combat team commander established his operation post across the bridgehead and, under heavy artillery fire, personally directed the operation.
Smoke and artillery fire were placed on the enemy locations but did not result in reducing the fire received. However, when civilians were cleared from all houses along the river, there was an end to the indirect artillery fire in the area. Immediately thereafter, the direct fire from the enemy SP guns ceased. The advance continued, and at 1145, the treadway bridge was completed, permitting the Tank and Tank Destroyer Companies to cross. 3 Battalion captured the town of Berge at 1710 after encountering moderate resistance and continued the advance, captured the town of Nieder Gandern, and established a bridgehead cross the Lahn River at 2000. 2 Battalion attacked to the south in the zone and captured the fort at Arnstein at 1736, captured Hohengenden at 2015, and successfully secured the bridge across the Lahn River east of Arenshausen after midnight.
The advance from Kassel across the Werra and Lahn Rivers, the first bridgeheads to be established in the division and army sector, resulted in new experiences for the combat team. Sniper resistance was heavy along the entire route, requiring the Germans to be driven out of their foxholes by fire. An unusual experience was encountered in the crossing of the Werra River when the firing self-propelled guns south of our zone ceased after the town of Witzenhausen had been cleared of civilians. It was suspected that the civilians were acting as observers for the SP weapons. Conditions of fog and haze along the river prevented aerial or ground observation. The resistance encountered showed the determination on the part of the enemy to prevent our advance. This, however, was overcome by employment of strong striking forces and maneuvers. Many enemy dead were left in the area.
During the night of 8 April 1945, orders were issued reorganizing the 1 Battalion into a task force consisting of Company B, 777 Tank Battalion; and 661 TD Battalion minus one platoon; the 2 Plat of the 269 Engineers; and one platoon, A Company, 86 Chemical Mortar Battalion – with a mission of clearing the zone to the east of Arenshausen. 2 Battalion was to continue to maintain the bridgehead until the 1 Battalion passed through, and follow the 1 Battalion, clearing the enemy resistance on the flanks. 3 Battalion, with 1 platoon of Tank Destroyers and 1 platoon of chemical mortars, advanced to the north, clearing it of enemy resistance and being prepared to assist 271 on our north to capture the city of Heiligenstadt. The attack continued against the slight resistance, with the 1 Battalion successfully capturing the towns of Marth, Schonan, Steinheuterode, Thalwenden and Uder. 3 Battalion continued their advance and captured the towns of Rustenfelde, Burgwalde and Retgenrode. During the progress of the attack, orders were received for Combat Team 272 alone to capture Heiligenstadt. Orders were issued to 1 Battalion to attack from the southeast and the 3 Battalion from the southwest. Light resistance was encountered entering the city, but after an artillery preparation, resistance ceased, and the city was entered without further resistance. All resistance ceased at 1600. The combat team passed through the city and prepared for further advance to the east. Elements of the 6 Armored Division were contacted, and mines were removed from roads by the Anti-Tank Company. The day resulted in an advance of 19 miles and the capture of 16 towns and 1 city.
During the day, orders were received for the combat team to follow the elements of the 9 Armored Division as rapidly as possible in its advance to the east. Again, the combat team was reorganized, permitting the maximum number of men to ride on vehicles in order to keep up with the mobile armor. 1 Battalion was organized into a task force consisting of Company B, 777 Tank Battalion; Company B, 661 Tank Destroyer Battalion; Cannon Company; and 2 Platoon, 269 Engineers – with a mission of maintaining contact with the 9 Armored Div. 2 Battalion with Company A, 86 Chemical Mortar Battalion, was ordered to follow 1 Battalion Task Force and to clear the enemy in its zone. 3 Battalion was designated as combat team reserve, with a maximum of infantry men riding on vehicles of 880 Field Artillery Battalion and the 955 Field Artillery Battalion. The 9 Armored Division passed through our forward elements at 1700, and an advance was made from Heiligsenstadt to Schlotheim.
This day started the combat team out on a rapid advance into Germany. The previous conception of how infantry should ride on motor transportation was entirely abandoned, of necessity. In this pursuit operation, men rode wherever there was available space on all types of transportation, even to the extent of riding on guns. The maximum number of men were placed on Tank Destroyers, trailers and anything that moved. The method employed, while not entirely consistent with the previous conception of what a motorized regiment should look like, was satisfactory in that it permitted us to move rapidly.
The combat team continued to advance, and closed in a new area in the vicinity of Rettgenstadt. No enemy contacts were made during the movement. The combat team closed in Rettgenstadt at 2000. Upon closing in the area, contact was made with elements of 76 Infantry Division reconnaissance. Troops were billeted for the night, and preparations were made to continue the advance the next day.
Continuing the mission, Combat Team 272 moved out from the vicinity of Rettgenstadt. The 1 Battalion task force followed CCR, while the 3 and 2 Battalions took a southerly route. During the advance, the I & R Platoon, preceding the 3 Battalion on a reconnaissance mission, was ambushed by enemy MG and panzerfaust fire on the outskirts of Bad Kösen. One jeep was destroyed and one man taken prisoner.
The 3 Battalion organized their force to clear the resistance. The enemy was well dug-in on a hill overlooking the road, with plenty of cover and excellent fields of fire. 880 Field Artillery Battalion promptly fired on the positions. I Company made the attack, supported by MG and direct fire from the Tank Destroyers. While I Company was attacking, supported by mortar and MG fire from M Company, one platoon of tanks, borrowed on the spot from the 3 Cavalry of the Third Army, was brought up and flanked the position from the east, bringing heavy fire to bear upon the enemy. 3 Battalion cleared the resistance just before darkness, and liberated the member of the I & R Platoon who had been captured earlier by the Germans. 65 prisoners were taken in this action.
A heavy roadblock that had been constructed on the highway was blasted out by the 3 Battalion A & P Platoon. After the 3 Battalion had cleared the resistance and were reorganizing, the 2 Battalion passed through the 3 Battalion and proceeded to Prettitz. This movement was completed after darkness. 3 Battalion closed in west of Naumberg. 1 Battalion, following CCR, closed in Obernessa.
Summary and Move Through Naumberg
While it was realized that Naumberg had not been entirely cleared of enemy resistance, it was decided to continue the advance through the city during the night. The regimental headquarters and the 2 Battalion moved by motor through the streets of Naumburg after midnight to Prettitz without route reconnaissance or previous knowledge that the route had been cleared. This calculated risk was taken to ensure that the regiment would accomplish its mission of keeping pace with the armor in the eastward drive.
At 0900, the advance continued. 1 Battalion moved out first, followed by 2 Battalion, then 3 Battalion. During the afternoon, as 1 Battalion approached the town of Lutzkewitz, casualties were received from 88 fire. One Engineer vehicle was destroyed. Artillery was called for from the 880 Field Artillery Battalion and the Tank Destroyers. The 88-mm guns were knocked out. The armor halted west of the Weisse Elster River after establishing a small bridgehead. The combat team closed up, moved into an assembly area in the vicinity of Dobergast, and established defensive positions. 1 Battalion went into position in Lutzkewitz and maintained contact with CCR. 2 Battalion entered an assembly area around Dobergast and set up defenses to protect battalion and combat team installations. 3 Battalion went into the assembly area and established defenses at Kottichau. Patrols were sent from 2 Battalion to comb the surrounding area. From these patrols and from foreign slave laborers, it was reported that there was a large battery of 88 mm anti-aircraft guns in the vicinity.
Working on the information that was received the previous night from civilians relative to the large battery of 88-mm anti-aircraft guns in the vicinity, patrols were sent out northwest of Predel. Patrols from 2 Battalion verified the information previously received and reported the enemy was dug in around gun positions. Plans were made for 2 Battalion to attack the position. Company B, 777 Tank Battalion, and Company B, 661 Tank Destroyer Battalion, were sent from CCR (Combat Command Reserve) to support E and F, the attacking companies, and were brought into position along the road between Queisau and Beersdorf.
An intense and effective artillery preparation was begun by 880 Field Artillery Battalion at 1530. At 1805, the artillery was lifted and E and F companies, attacking abreast, preceded by the tanks and Tank Destroyers, jumped off. As the attackers approached the position, they received heavy fire from the enemy, who were using panzerfausts as anti-personnel weapons. The attack was a complete success. The enemy gun positions were overrun and 474 prisoners, including 3 officers and 4 women, were taken, and 36 guns were captured. The gun positions captured were a highly organized and elaborately emplaced battalion of 36 88-mm guns. The guns were dual purpose, capable of firing at either air or ground targets. The positions were strongly defended.
While the 2 Battalion was thus engaged, the 3 Battalion located in Kottichau sent patrols throughout its area and located another enemy battery. Reconnaissance was made, and the battalion prepared to attack the positions the following morning. 1 Battalion moved further south to Dobergast and established security on the bridge crossing the Weisse River.
This morning, the 3 Battalion completed its reconnaissance and prepared to attack the enemy 88-mm gun positions. Following a heavy concentration of artillery, I and L companies, reinforced with 1 platoon of mortars and 1 section of heavy machine guns from M Company, 1 platoon from Company B, 661 Tank Destroyer Battalion and Company B, 777 Tank Battalion, jumped off at 0930. The enemy fought back with 88-mm, small-arms and panzerfaust fire, but the enemy gun positions were assaulted and taken. A complete battery of 36 88-mm, and 248 PW’s, including 3 officers were captured. Guns were rendered useless.
1 Battalion remained in position in Beersdorf and maintained contact with CCR. The rest of the combat team maintained defensive positions. In the late afternoon, an order was received from the divisionv which changed our mission. We were to swing to the north and move into a ready position in the vicinity of Zweenfurth, preparatory to attacking Leipzig from the east upon division order.
This was to be done by following closely behind elements of the 6 Armored Division or by passing through the 9 Armored if they were not advancing. We were to be prepared to assist the advance of Combat Team 271 by fire; to maintain contact with 271 Infantry, 9 Armored Division; and to establish contact with VII Corps after Leipzig was taken. Plans were made and orders issued during the night to begin the advance early the next morning.
In those two days, Combat Team 272 accounted for 72 88-mm guns, and the complete enemy garrisons manning these positions. Both positions were stubbornly defended by the enemy, but because of the timing and coordination of the attack with the artillery, tanks, and tank destroyers, practically no casualties were suffered. The artillery fire, which was so effective, was directed by both liaison plane and a ground observer. The ground observer did such excellent work that many direct hits were scored on the well-dug-in guns and on individuals. After the action, the troops, in their enthusiasm for the fine work of the artillery, cheered and embraced the forward observer.
At 0800, the advance to the new assembly area began with knowledge that we might have to fight our way to it and for it. As we moved, we were getting information as to the battle that the 271 was having for their assembly area. The combat team proceeded with the 1 Battalion, organized as a task force. In the vicinity of Langenhain, the forward movement was topped inasmuch as CCR stopped. It was ascertained from them that they were not planning to move until such time as the city of Borna had been taken.
At that time, the decision was made to bypass the 9 Armored Division and proceed north to the objective. All the information the regiment had regarding the armor was that the three CCs (Combat Command) of 9 Armored Division were to form a barrier around the city of Leipzig to the north and east, protecting the rear of our division as it swung in to attack Leipzig from the east, northeast and southeast. The regiment had no knowledge of the location of the elements of CCA, although there was some evidence of their route to the town of Thierbach, where they had apparently swung to the east. We had no knowledge of the location of CCB.
When entering the town of Hainichen, sniper resistance was received and, from prisoners-of-war captured, a report was received that there were four 88-mm guns in the area. The location was determined, and the position was captured by the employment of tanks and tank destroyers, with many of the Germans fleeing into the woods. The advance continued with light resistance to the town of Pomssen, where our route was blocked by resistance in the vicinity of Kohra and to the northwest at the city of Steinberg. Inasmuch as darkness was approaching and the fact that the column was strung out on the road for an excessive distance, it was considered advisable to close the combat team and to organize a coordinated attack against the resistance.
In the meantime, artillery, mortar, tank and small-arms fire was brought on the points of resistance, while the remainder of the combat team closed in the vicinity of Pomssen. Due to a rapidly changing situation, orders were issued after dark to proceed immediately to the final assembly area, and the attack on the town of Steinberg was abandoned. A decision was reached to push our advance along the road and to Kohra. Heavy artillery preparation was placed along the road towards Kohra.
This was the start of one of the weirdest moves that the combat team had ever experienced or hoped to experience. A route was selected to avoid movement through any large towns or woods. Of course, no reconnaissance had been made, and the combat team, minus the 3 Battalion and artillery, advanced to the assembly area. Small villages were passed without a semblance of a while flag or activity, and the members of the combat team fully realized the possibility of ambush, of sudden enemy fire at close range at any moment.
Before the movement had been half completed, information came from a liaison officer with CCR that 2,000 SS troops were reported to be in the city of Brandis. The decision was to move and close in around the town of Zweenfurth, with the two battalions providing all-around security. Because of the darkness, the column was closed up and movement slowed so that no elements would become detached or lost.
At approximately 0500 in the morning, after the leading tank of the 1 Battalion had arrived in the town of Zweenfurth, the night air was suddenly cut by the weird sounds of sirens from the city of Leipzig and all surrounding villages. If the troops had had no reason to be apprehensive prior to that time, the sinister wailing of the sirens along was enough to make them so.
The situation known by only the commanders was that the combat team was out of radio range with the division; had no contact with CCA of the 9 Armored Division, and did not know where that unit was located; had no knowledge that the CCB had started to move north and on top of it all, there was the recent report that there were 2,000 SS troops near by Brandis. The combat team column was extended along the road with visibility limited to three vehicles’ distance in close column. If there was ever a time that the combat team was vulnerable to the possibility of sudden disaster, this was it, but it was a calculated risk deliberately taken to ensure the accomplishment of the combat team’s mission of closing in the final assembly area on the eastern outskirts of Leipzig during the night.
As the sirens died down, the combat team closed in tightly in an all-around defensive position into the town of Zweenfurth. When daylight came, the white flags started to come out of the windows. By that time, there was our company of tanks, a company of Tank Destroyers and also our battalions, firmly in position and prepared to fight in any direction.
Dawn found the troops glad to see the light of day and busy digging in for the expected attack at any moment. The remainder of the combat team closed into the defensive sector, and immediately, further preparations were made to counter any attack from any direction. The artillery started registering, and Allied PW’s came in from the town of Naunhof and Sommerfeld, reporting that the people wanted to surrender those towns to us and turn over the German PW’s if we would only keep from damaging the towns. With that development in the situation, the combat team began expanding its tightly organized positions to include the towns to the north, and the remainder of the day was spent preparing for western movement against the city of Leipzig.
Strong patrols from the 2 and 1 Battalions were moved forward, clearing the enemy in their zone. Attachments were rearranged to provide each battalion with one tank platoon and one tank destroyer platoon, with the chemical mortars attached to the 2 Battalion.
Reports early in the morning indicated that the civilians in the city of Leipzig had expected us to attack on the 17th; that the sirens had been sounded to warn all people, and that hostile tanks were approaching the city of Leipzig. Civilians reported that during the night, SS troopers had cruised the outskirts of Leipzig, forcing the townspeople to take down the white flags and to organize resistance. Security patrols were sent out to the front and encountered this resistance. The Battle Patrol of the 2 Battalion, assisted by one platoon of tanks, ran into heavy resistance on the outskirts of Paunsdorf with machine gun, small-arms and Panzerfaust fire. It was decided not to reinforce this patrol with additional troops, inasmuch as a coordinated attack on the city of Leipzig had been planned to be executed only on division order, and information had been received that elements of the 273 plus 1 Battalion of the 271 Infantry were moving to a new assembly area preparatory to that attack.
Because of the resistance encountered in Paunsdorf and the cratered road conditions, forward movement was difficult. The plan was to have the 2 Battalion with attachments attack generally along the main road leading into Leipzig, and the 1 Battalion, for the purpose of coordinating the attack, to move parallel to the 2 Battalion on the road just south of the main road. 2 Battalion ran into resistance at an underpass 800 yards east of Phase Line 1. This resistance was reduced by small-arms, machine gun, mortar, tank and artillery fire.
The battalion proceeded, and at 1530, heavy resistance was met by both battalions on Phase Line 1. Part of 2 Battalion continued to clear the resistance as Paunsdorf, to keep open the route of communication. In view of the resistance received on Phase Line 1, it was necessary to launch a coordinated attack into the city. The advance was slow. Each battalion attacked with two companies abreast, with tanks supporting the north or right company in each battalion. Companies F and G attacked in the 2 Battalion zone, with G Company on the north, B and C Companies in the 1 Battalion zone, with Company B on the north.
The advance continued against sniper resistance, with the tanks spearheading, protected by the infantry. By 1900, both battalions arrived generally along Phase Line 2, at which time reorganization was initiated and the position consolidated. To reinforce the 2 Battalion, which was meeting the greatest resistance, the 3 Platoon, Company B, 777 Tank Battalion, was ordered to assist the 2 Battalion.
3 Battalion started its move to a reserve assembly area in the vicinity of Paunsdorf at 1630 and closed in Paunsdorf at 1915. The regimental command post opened at Paunsdorf in the city of Leipzig at 1830. 3 Battalion continued to reduce resistance in the assembly area. Contact was made in the afternoon with CCB to the northeast at Dobitz and Pehritzsch by patrols of the 3 Battalion. At 1900, orders were issued for the 2 Battalion to form a task force consisting of tanks and infantry to move through the city as rapidly as possible and gain contact with elements of the 2 Division generally west of Phase Line 5. In the meantime, both battalions continued their attack from Phase Line 2 after reorganizing and consolidating. 2 Battalion continued to receive heavy resistance in its areas, and their tanks ran into roadblocks.
At 2005, the task force, organized by the 2 Battalion, after extricating themselves from the roadblocks and other debris in the streets, encountered heavy enemy sniper and panzerfaust fire in the vicinity of the railroad station. The tanks maneuvered to overcome this resistance. One tank was knocked out by panzerfaust fire, and although there was some moonlight, it became so dark within the streets and between buildings that the snipers could not be seen. One of the tanks entered into the railroad station and fired at snipers inside its rooms in an attempt to drive them out into the streets so that they could be engaged by the riflemen who had accompanied the tanks. The firefight lasted for two hours, and the tanks then withdrew and started reconnaissance for a route around the station to bypass the remaining resistance.
At 2100, both battalions were located generally along Phase Line 3. It was then so dark in the city streets of Leipzig that the men held onto each other to keep from getting lost or separated. Because of the darkness and difficulty of observation, it was considered inadvisable to bring the railroad station under artillery fire. Then too, the railroad station was a massive structure, the largest in Germany. Artillery fire of available caliber could have little or no effect on its heavy masonry. The tanks and tank destroyers fired at the station, but their shells bounced from the masonry as an unchalked cue would slide over a billiard ball.
Plans were made to send strong foot patrols through the city, bypassing heavy resistance to gain contact with the friendly elements on the western side of the city, while the bulk of the troops were to consolidate their present position, clean out resistance in their areas, and be prepared to resume the coordinated attack on order. Regimental orders were issued to continue the general advance of the attacking battalions at 2300. Some tanks were left generally along Phase Line 3 to keep up the pressure on the railroad station on the south.
After the resistance around the railroad station was bypassed, the battalions proceeded until 0230, when both battalions were generally along Phase Line 4. All three companies in both battalions were advancing. Contact was made with elements of the 273 Infantry south of the railroad station, but was broken because of our forward movement. The battalions consolidated again along Phase Line 4 and proceeded to Phase Line 5. Contact was made by the 1 Battalion with elements of the 23 Infantry 2 Division west of Phase Line 5. At 0430, both battalions arrived along that line approximately at the same time. Defenses were immediately set up and forces consolidated, and preparations were made for clearing out resistance bypassed during the night. At daylight, the 2 Battalion brought up its tanks, using them to clear out any remaining sniper resistance in their zone and started patrolling to the north to clear out the northern section of the city.
The 1 Battalion started the return trip at 0630 to clear out the remaining resistance in the zone and to overcome the resistance bypassed at the station. Upon arriving at the railroad station, the resistance that was so heavy during the night had vanished, possibly due to the fact that our troops could now see anyone who fired at them, or the Germans must have felt that it was useless to defend the station after being entirely surrounded. It may have been that the tank running amok inside the rooms of the railroad station, coupled with the constant pressure of the tanks and tank destroyers on that area all during the remaining part of the night, first weakened and then broke the determined resistance at that point.
All organized resistance had ceased in the regimental zone by 0800, and patrols from the battalions continued to comb the city without encountering any further sniper fire. The total number of PW’s captured in our zone during the two-day period in the city of Leipzig, fifth largest city of Germany, was 1,721, including one Major General, who as Wehrmacht-Kommandant formally surrendered the city to us.
Orders were received in the afternoon, preparing us for a move into a new assembly area, with the mission of protecting the Corps and division northwest flank. The 3 Battalion sent patrols to the north at 1200, to block all roads leading to the north out of the city to prevent assistance from the north and also any Germans leaving the city.
The battle of Leipzig and the events leading to it were linked with experiences that will long live in the memories of all the troops involved. Prior to entrance into the city, our arrival was announced by screaming sirens, sinister sounds not soon forgotten. The resistance encountered, while determined, was of comparatively short duration because of the effective fire and maneuver that was placed against it. Some of our casualties resulted when the civilians formed a shield for snipers. As our troops approached, the civilian shield would disappear and the enemy guns would fire on our troops. The streets and buildings ahead of the advancing troops were swept by heavy fire. The attack through the city of Leipzig was remarkable in that the troops did not get lost. The directional control by the troop commanders was worthy of note.
This morning, our mission in Leipzig completed, the combat team began its scheduled movement into a new assembly area immediately north of the city. Mission: to relieve elements of the 9 Armored Division to protect the division’s northwest flank, and to make contact with the VII Corps. 1 Battalion advanced from Leipzig to Seehausen and Hohenheida, closing at 1112. 2 Battalion closed in Wiederitzsch at 1030; 3 Battalion closed in Lützschena; A-T closed in Wiederitzch; and Cannon Company closed in Eutrizsch. Defensive positions, with roadblocks and outposts, were immediately established. All of our troops were cleared of the city of Leipzig by 1100. Contact with elements of the 104 Division on the north was made at 1430. Immediately upon closing in the new assembly area, combat team formation was dissolved.
The next five days were spent in relative quiet, with all battalions and special units billeted in the vicinity of Wiederitzsch. This was the longest period that the regiment had remained stationary during the entire month. During this period, the regiment, now without attachments, maintained defensive positions, roadblocks, and outposts. Motorized patrols were sent throughout the sector. Contact was maintained with adjacent units: the 104 Infantry Division on the north, 271 Infantry on the east, and elements of the 997 Field Artillery Group on the south. The troops were given an opportunity to take showers; movies and special service shows were available. A program of scheduled training was initiated. All regimental vehicles which were now in need of maintenance and repair, because of the long and continuous movement during the month, were repaired and maintained. In general, this period was utilized to bring all personnel and equipment to the highest peak of combat efficiency.
On the afternoon of 26 April 1945, the regiment was given the new mission of securing the route from Eilenburg to Torgau. It was to act as the link between our own forces along the Mulde River and the Russian forces east of the Elbe River. Initial contact had just been made by patrols from 273 Infantry. The route was secured and an area extending approximately four kilometers to either side was cleared of all remaining enemy. Patrols were sent to all nearby towns in our area to ensure this security. In the town of Torgau, the road was found to be mined. The A & P Platoon of the 1 Battalion worked all night clearing 82 new type Holtz mines from the roads. On 26 April 1945, Major General Clarence R. Huebner, V Corps Commander, and his party, came through the regimental area. Guards were posted at frequent intervals along the entire stretch of road in our sector from Eilenburg to Torgau.
On 30 April 1945, General Courtney H. Hodges, First United States Army Commander, Major General E. F. Reinhardt, Division Commander, and their party also made the same trip. Guards were placed in the same manner. Patrolling was constant in the surrounding area to ensure its security. Two large chemical dumps containing huge quantities of aerial bombs filled with a vesicant-type gas was captured and a guard maintained there throughout the period. Large ammunition dumps were also found in the area, and the process of destroying these dumps was begun. At the end of the period, preparations were being made to move further south and relieve the elements of 2 Infantry Division. On 29 April 1945 at 1800, the division was transferred from V Corps to VII Corps.
During the month of April, we moved from just east of the Rhine River to the Elbe River and there forged the link to maintain constant contact between the First United States Army and the First Russian Ukrainian Army.
This fortunate junction with the Russian Army had one unfortunate meaning for us – the regiment would not participate in the assault and capture of Berlin, our final objective. The Russians were already there.
During this period, the regiment was actively engaged in the security of the Eilenburg-Torgau Road and its assigned sector. A guard was maintained over two large chemical storage plants containing approximately 75 percent of the Germans’ supply of gas for air bombardment, and several ammunition dumps in the regimental zone. On 1 May at 1515, the regiment was attached to the 104 Infantry Division for operational control. Patrolling continued, and German soldiers attempting to escape from the Russians were captured and sent to the rear.
On 3 May 1945 at 2115, elements of the Russian Army, without prior arrangement or warning, started crossing the Elbe River at Torgau, moving west into our territory. It took double-fast work to notify all of our troops on position of this unexpected night movement and thus prevent a possible night battle. At midnight, a Russian major was contacted, who informed us that the troops crossing the river was an advance guard of a division. This advance guard consisted of the 1076 Russian Artillery Battalion, having 220-mm guns plus anti-tank guns. The battalion bivouacked in the vicinity of Mockrehna for the night. Later investigation revealed that these troops were direct from the battle of Berlin and were slated to occupy the area between the Mulde and the Elbe Rivers.
Lieutenant General J. L. Collins, Commanding General, VII Corps, visited the regimental area with Major General Reinhardt, 69 Infantry Division Commander. During this visit, Colonel Korosevech, Commander of the 395 Division, 54 Corps, 13 Army, First Russian Ukrainian Army, conferred with Lieutenant General Collins at the Command Post, 272 Infantry.
General O. N. Bradley, 12 Army Group Commander, passed through the regimental zone to contact Marshal Koniev, Commander of the First Ukrainian Army. The military courtesy and bearing displayed by the troops guarding the road, assuring safe passage for the General Bradley party, resulted in a commendation for the regiment by General Bradley.
The regiment was released from operational control of the 104 Infantry Division at 0730 and relieved of its mission of securing the Eilenburg-Torgau Road. It was relieved by elements of the 395 Division, First Ukrainian Army, marking the first time that an American regiment was relieved by elements of the Russian Army in World War II. The regiment moved to the vicinity of Borna. This was the beginning of the occupation of Germany.
The period from 3 May to 6 May 1945 was one of considerable concern, as the roads east of the Mulde River were jammed with Russian troops moving west in a constant stream. The Russian Army streamed by, day and night. Every conceivable type of vehicle and wagon was used to transport troops and supplies. Some American Army-type trucks were used. Many Russian civilians, both men and women, all heavily armed, accompanied the Russian columns. Fleeing before the Russians – moving generally west – was a great mass of distraught and unorganized refugees, both German civilians and displaced persons. They moved on foot, on bicycles, carts, wagons, and any other means obtainable. The regiment broke through this flowing stream of humanity, crossed the Mulde River at Eilenburg and left them struggling to escape from the advancing Russian Army.
VE Day was announced by Shaef on 8 May 1945 at 1500, to be effective one minute after midnight, 9 May 1945. The war in Europe was over, and our work here was done. Now we turn our eyes towards Japan and our final objective, “TOKYO.”
Excerpts from History of the 272nd Infantry, p.15-58.
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